What’s the most important factor to a business’s success?

In my role as investor and business owner, I’m frequently asked the above question. Clearly there is no silver bullet or secret sauce that will guarantee a business to launch and be successful. Surely, it’s a combination of factors including access to resources, leadership, scrappiness, regulatory friendliness, talent, creativity, drive, timing and even luck, yes luck.

But I’m willing to go on record citing determination as the single most important ingredient to the business building recipe. And by determination, I don’t mean the hard- headed, stubborn garden variety. I mean the problem-solving focused type of determination. In Valley parlance this is referred to as “the pivot” but what it really boils down to is making a commitment to start a business and sticking to it.

I want to bring you an example from Eastern Europe, specifically, a luxury shoe manufacturer based in Cluj, Romania. I was lucky enough this past summer to meet with the owners, the employees and get a tour of their 40 worker strong operation. I was struck by the pure force of determination that has kept this business thriving.

Quick background: the company started from a cultural strength – an artisan level tradition of working with glass beads. The genesis of their business: working with the beads in an nontraditional medium, leather shoes, producing luxury designs mostly from the exclusive French fashion houses. The women bead workers produced the French designs, working the leather and beads by hand, meticulously and lovingly. But what would happen to their good, steady jobs in a friendly and supportive environment when the beaded shoe trend became passe?

The owners were determined to keep the business going and so they took a suggestion from their Italian partners that seems obvious today. Why make just beaded shoes? The Italians assured the Romanians that with their top-notch level of leather working, they could make any shoe. (The Italians and Romanians collaborate to create the exclusive French designs. The Romanians producing the uppers and the Italians producing the soles and putting the two together. In a testament to the Romanians desire to be good partners, they speak Italian with their Italian partners and French with their French clients.) And so, the company convinced their French clients that the range of their skills extended far beyond beads. With a couple of years of trust built into the relationship, the French were willing to take a risk and clearly they are happy with the results. Our Romanian shoe manufacturer made the switch to non-beaded shoes more than 8 years ago.

I asked about how the global recession how impacted their business and interestingly, they have been not only insulated from it rather they have continued to grow. The reason? Their French clients’ market is so high end that money continues to be no object.

However, the owners aren’t resting on their laurels. They have recently committed to expanding their product line. Despite their relatively “safe” client roster, they began looking around at the literally tons of premium leather scraps at their disposable. Compelled to find  a way to salvage these scraps, I have no doubt that this most recent pivot will keep the company thriving for years. I’ve put in my request for a truly elegant smartphone case……fingers crossed.

And so, their determination to continue to grow their business, provide good, steady jobs to 40 artisans and find new ways to leverage their workers talent will indeed keep them thriving.  How determined are you to keep your business thriving?  What are you doing to change your business today?


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